By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant
This week’s Torah parsha begins: “These are the generations of Noah; Noah was a righteous man for this generation; Noah walked with God”(1). Numerous commentaries have emerged, pertaining to the implication that ‘Noah was a righteous man’. In a rare ‘Torah Moment’, Torah scholars are actually in agreement in their individual interpretations(2). The almost unanimous conclusion is that had Noah lived amongst ‘truly’ righteous individuals, he would have been considered just another citizen.
Noah appeared on the scene approximately 1,000 years after God created mankind ‘in His image’. Adam and Eve had both sinned, and were banished from the ‘Garden of Eden’. Their son, Cain killed his brother Abel. During the time of Enoch (the grandson of Adam and Eve), the people turned towards a state of lawlessness, idolatry and corruption. Methuselah, who lived 969 years, was Noah’s grandfather and also led a nation of people who had no regard for the law, engaged in criminal behavior, and were self-serving to the extreme(3).
During each of these centuries, God had communicated commandments with reference to ethics and morality. There were prohibitions against blasphemy, indecency, idolatry and serious crimes(4).
In Noah’s generation, the state of the people had declined to the most ignoble and barbaric forms of behavior: idolatry, robbery, rape, and murder were rampant. Noah was considered a ‘loner’, and rarely interacted with anyone in the community. He may have been pious in his own way. However, his greatest failure was that he did not rebuke the people, nor teach them to ‘walk in God’s ways’. In effect, Noah exerted absolutely no effort to correct and develop the positive character traits, lying dormant within the people(5).
God’s disappointment in His creation of mankind was overwhelming. He said to Noah: “The end of all flesh is before Me; man has become replete with corruption. Behold I am destroying them from the earth”(6). Next, God told Noah: “I am bringing a flood, water upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which there is the spirit of life”(7). Noah was told to take his wife, three sons and their wives, and a male and female of seven different species onto the ark.
It took Noah a year to create the ark and another year to find dry land. Upon reaching their destination, Noah immediately began utilizing the land to plant vineyards. In an unprecedented event, his sons found him lying down, barely clothed and drunk on wine.
During Noah’s long life, the population grew immensely. “Now, all of these people were of one language” (8). They followed their new leader, Nimrod, east to the land, which eventually became known as Babylon. Nimrod and his merry followers were idolaters, and decided to build a tower high enough to avoid another flood, but close enough to God to rebel against Him. By engaging in such self-aggrandizement the Tower builders created their own downfall.
Finally, we note God’s compassion. He realized that Nimrod and his followers simply did not learn anything from the rationale for the ‘Great Flood’. Instead of destroying them, He chose to jumble their language so that each man was incapable of communicating with another. He then scattered all of them across seventy nations.
(1) GENESIS (6:9)
(2) Midrash (Rabba 32:7)
(3) Jewish Virtual Library
(5) The Torah: A Women’s Commentary
(6) GENESIS (6:13)
(7) GENESIS (6:17)
(8) GENESIS (11:1)